Tag Archives: music

Tagalicious

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Having recently acquired a copy Tagalicious, it seemed time to look at the MP3 tag file programs again. I’m astonished at how many hits these postings have gotten.

If you’re coming to the blog for the first time, here are links to the previous posts:

CoverScout, Pollux, TuneUp

Genre Tagging: Pollux vs. TuneUp

Pollux vs. TuneUp — Update

As mentioned in previous posts, CoverScout is out of the running. It only does cover art, it creates a large database, and it’s too expensive for the limited functionality. Through the course of the past year, Pollux also dropped out of the running. In the year that I had it, I believe there was one update. I’m not going to pay an annual fee ($10/year) for a product that appears to have ceased development a year ago. It might be different if the program were outstandingly effective and bug free. No such luck.

So, TuneUp has remained my go-to program for MP3 tagging. They update it regularly and seem to have an actual interest in their customers. Things have changed a bit, in the last year; they have broadened the offering a bit since I first purchased TuneUp. They have now added DeDuper, which claims to eliminate duplicate songs, based on the acoustic fingerprint of the songs. A lifetime license to the entire bundle is now $49.95. As a loyal TuneUp Gold customer, I am allowed to purchase DeDuper as an add-on for $19.95 (annual) or $29.95 (lifetime). My reward is to pay more for the bundle than a new customer will pay. I just don’t see that happening. So, I have 25 DeDupes and then I’m done. I’ll probably get to it eventually but duplicate songs aren’t that big a deal to me (certainly not a big enough deal to spend $30).

Now comes Tagalicious from The Little App Factory. I have iRip and RipIt from The Little App Factory and have found both programs to be very useful and very stable, so it made sense to give Tagalicious try. At $19.95 for a license that is not an annuity (for the developer), it is priced well. Also, it is available for Mac AND PC (as is TuneUp).

What do you get with Tagalicious?

– MP3 tagging
– Cover art
– Lyrics

Like Pollux, Tagalicious sweetens the deal by providing access to lyrics.

Preferences

You couldn’t get much simpler than the preference settings in Tagalicious. It’s nice that there is a setting to leave purchased songs alone; I don’t recall that being an option in the other apps. The other setting lets you determine whether it’s the new or old tag that is selected for updating by default. By that, I mean that you’re deciding which values will be used for the update.

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How Does it Work?

When you run Pollux, it inserts itself in the menu bar. You select songs in iTunes and then use the menu bar to initiate the search. TuneUp launches with iTunes. You select the songs you want to tag and drag them to the TuneUp window. Tagalicious launches as an app. It looks at your iTunes database and presents your playlists. It also presents a number of its own Smart Playlists, based on your library:

– Music — every song in iTunes
– Updated Music — anything that Tagalicious has modified
– Tagged Music — songs that already have tags
– Untagged Music — nekkid songs

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Select any of the lists and you’re ready to get started. It took me a few minutes to realize that Tagalicious activates when you select a song (or collection of songs). This is different than the way TuneUp and Pollux work but I liked it.

When you pick a list or library view, there are two viewing options: a cover art view and a list view. Cover art view shows the album cover and the song, which is attractive, but not terribly useful.

For list view, here are the view option settings that allow you to pick the sort order, sort by tag, and viewable tags. Another nice feature is that you can toggle back and forth between the original settings and the Tagalicious settings while in list view. This is the most transparent interface I’ve seen, allowing you to easily see how Tagalicious is performing against your current tags/tagging solution.

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If you select a single song, you get a view of the current tag information presented next to the values that Tagalicious has found:

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This is a feature that I really like about Tagalicious. It shows you the existing tag info, as well as the suggested tag info (as determined by Tagalicious). Compared to Pollux or TuneUp, this is a superior method. With Pollux and TuneUp, you must turn off the tags that you do not want updated. With Tagalicious, you click on the tag information you want to update (it’s probably more clear if you note the highlighted fields in the screenshot above). When you click “Send to iTunes” it updates the highlighted fields. This allows you to mix and match between existing tags and the new tags. This is a much more flexible option, since you don’t have to turn off a particular tag for all songs. How sweet is that?

As you can see in the above pic, you can select which values you prefer for each song in your library. This isn’t your only option. Under the Tracks menu, you can also toggle between the original and new values by tag:

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Another useful piece of information provided in list view is an icon that shows the status of each song:

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The green check means that the song has been updated. The red exclamation indicates that nothing was found for that song. The blue lock shows that the song is a DRM song and cannot be updated. The orange icon means that tag information has been found for that song. No icon shows that the song hasn’t been touched yet. It’s quite handy that the list view can be sorted by this value, allowing you to deal with all songs with the same status at once if you want.

TuneUp vs. Tagalicious

As mentioned above, I did not renew my Pollux license. This means that the comparison you’ll see is between TuneUp and Tagalicious. To compare the apps, I created a playlist comprised of 101 songs. I tried to provide a wide variety of genres, as well as throwing in songs that I know are problematic. There were two runs. The first run, used the songs with their existing tags (mostly provided by Pollux or TuneUp). For the second run, I selected the songs in the playlist and cleared all the fields (except song name).

First Round

In the testing, it was clear that Tagalicious was much faster than TuneUp. However, I suspect that this is because TuneUp is checking so many more sites for cover art (based on the number of alerts I got from Little Snitch, TuneUp must check 2 or 3 times what Tagalicious checks…at least). In the first round, Tagalicious processed the songs in 50 seconds, as compared to 3 minutes, 40 seconds for TuneUp. After the first pass, Tagalicious had tagged 50 of 101 songs. After two additional passes through the songs, it had tagged 77. Although I’m not clear why, Tagalicious seemed to improve over time.

After 3:42, TuneUp had tagged 98 songs. What’s interesting is that two of those songs (two songs that I have NEVER had identified properly), were properly tagged by Tagalicious. For the record, those songs were “Rice Rice Baby” by Weird Al and “Choppin’ Broccoli” by Dana Carvey.

In terms of tagging completions, TuneUp took round 1 (although it was slower in one pass than three passes through Tagalicious).

Second Round

For round 2, I cleared all MP3 info from the 101 songs except the song name.

Tagalicious processed the 101 songs in 27 seconds. It tagged 79 songs.

TuneUp took 3.5 minutes and tagged 75 songs. This suggests (to me) that TuneUp uses more than just the audio fingerprint to tag songs. It seems that it did better in round 1 because it had more information to start with.

Both apps had issues with songs recorded through Snowtape. I suppose this makes sense, since it isn’t always easy to get a clean cut on the songs (sometimes you just can’t manage to avoid overlap between the new song and the previous song or commercial). However, Tagalicious seemed to fare a bit better with Snowtape recordings.

Bottom Line

Tagalicious is much faster than TuneUp. I’m sure this is affected by TuneUp’s additional functionality (finding YouTube videos, concerts nearby, and a dogged determination to find cover art) but Tagalicious is also getting song lyrics in that time (functionality not provided by TuneUp). I like the way the program presents itself and the way the fact that it is standalone. It doesn’t seem to fill up the hard drive like CoverScout and, so far, seems more stable than Pollux or TuneUp. It also, in my opinion, provides a better, more informative, more flexible UI than the other apps.

TuneUp is better at finding cover art. As mentioned before, it seems to have a wide array of sites it checks for covers. Also, if you want deep genre tagging, there is no question that TuneUp is the winner. I have TuneUp set at level 2, which is 250 genres. Tagalicious is much less granular. Below, is a sampling of the results from both apps, with TuneUp first (I tried to get them side by side but my theme just doesn’t have room for it).

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If you aren’t too concerned about genre tagging, Tagalicious is faster and provides lyrics at a much better price point.

If you want very detailed genre tagging, I have not found anything that can touch TuneUp. In the 101 song sample, Tagalicious produced 21 different genre tags while TuneUp provided 49. In terms of cover art, I would also have to give the edge to TuneUp. It’s clear they are checking a huge number of sites to find appropriate cover art and they were able to provide cover art that Tagalicous couldn’t find.

Tagalicious is currently at rev 1.1.3 and is already a good app, especially in terms of speed and interface. If The LIttle App Factory continues to work on cover art and genre tagging, they will have a very strong contender on their hands.

Both products provide a trial with a limited number of tags. You owe it to yourself to try both to see which app fits your needs.


iWow 3D

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To be fair, I was skeptical of this device when I ordered it. It’s certainly something that I would like to work as promised but I haven’t found anything that really does the trick thus far. However, given how easy Amazon makes returns, I was willing to take the risk; it’s tough to find great new stuff without taking a few chances. So, I added it to my cart and hoped for the best.

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When I pulled it out of the box, I couldn’t help thinking it looked like a manta ray. The device plugs into the 30-pin connector on your iPod/Touch/iPad and claims to dramatically improve the sound you’re getting through your headphones. Here is what the manufacturer says:

“Hear What You’ve Been Missing
SRS iWOW 3D dynamically locates audio cues buried deep down in existing recorded or streamed multimedia content to restore sonic fidelity to audio files, ensuring the user experiences music, videos, and games with renewed clarity and detail–the way the artist originally intended.”

Plug it into your Apple music player of choice, plug your headphones/earbuds into it, and you’re ready to go. Although it is a hardware solution, a free app is available in the App Store that claims to offer further enhancements. Just search on SRS iWow.

Hardware

The tail that you plug your earbuds/headphones into seems rugged enough but the body of the manta seems more delicate. The plastic that encases the electronics feels thin and the seam between the halves looks and feels like it would be easy to pop apart. The massive cyclopean circle you see on the face of the body is an on/off switch that lights up when activated, which brings me to my next complaint.

Let’s take a hypothetical example. Say a guy had a few Amazon certificates that he had been saving and was intrigued enough to want to order the manta. He doesn’t talk to his wife about it, he just orders it and calls it good. Several days later, it arrives. He plugs everything together and waits for evening because he likes to listen to music in bed, while dozing off to sleep. Bed time arrives. The lights are off and he grabs his iPod Touch, pops his Monster Turbine earbuds in, and turns the Touch on. Immediately, a glow fills the room. The circle is a homing beacon of some sort. It makes E.T.’s finger look like match light in the darkness. It illuminates with a brightness that feels like it is tanning his panicked face. If you have a Kindle (see Kindle review below…seriously, you should get one) but haven’t purchased a lighted case yet, this baby will light up your reading surface just fine. It’s at the point where the hypothetical wife, who has no issue with the Kindle light, opens her eyes and says, “What in the hell is that? Why do you have a flashlight in bed?”

OK, there is some hyperbole here, but not as much as you might expect. That little bastard is bright.

As mentioned, that circle serves as an on/off button. This leads us to my next complaint. With iWow Premium iTunes plugin (or the Bongiovi DPS plugin), you have the ability to compare the enhanced sounds with the standard iTunes output by toggling the software on and off. Not so with this bad boy. When you turn it off, it actually dis-enhances the sound to such a degree that toggling the device on and off convinces that the enhancement sounds 1000% better. (Sorry for the made up word but unenhance suggests that it does nothing.) The fact is that the sound coming through while the gadget is off is so notably bad, and the volume so low, that you decide you have just found nirvana. You won’t believe how much better the music sounds with the manta activated. Before you get all excited, though, listen to music for a few seconds with the manta turned off. Then, disconnect the manta, plug your earbuds into the standard stereo out jack of your player, and listen again. You will, again, be surprised at how much better things sound. It would probably be over the top to suggest that the manufacturer knowingly uses the circuitry in an off state to completely butcher the music, but it is a brilliant way to make users believe they have stumbled onto a hella good gadget.

Next off, we have the fact that the manta takes over the 30-pin connector AND blocks the headphone jack. This means:

  • You can’t conveniently compare the outputs
  • You can’t charge your player while using the iWow 3D

While using the iWow, I did not notice a significant battery drain, which actually surprised me a bit. Given the retina-searing, hallogen-beating lamp on it, I expected the battery gauge to visibly drop while I watched it. (Slight hyperbole warning).

But, back to the sound. Does the iWow make the music sound better? Yes. Does it enhance the music in any way, providing more depth, clarity, and detail? I don’t think so. Maybe there would be a marked improvement with stock earbuds but with the earbuds I use (see reviews elsewhere on this site), the music just sounded louder. It might have kicked up the treble a little bit but I could not confidently say that the music had opened up in any way.

Software

Unfortunately, I can’t provide screenshots from the app because you have to have the manta plugged in to reach most of the functionality and mine is packed up and ready for return to Amazon (spoiler alert). I can tell you that it offers music trivia, a link to the SRS blog, and a link to the SRS site.

With the device plugged in, you can:

  • Toggle the software on and off
  • Tailor the software for different environments
    • Headphones
    • Speakers
    • Car
  • Advanced settings
    • Wide Surround
    • Deep Bass
    • High Treble

None of the settings really seemed to alter the music that much. With eyes closed, I don’t believe you would quickly differentiate between the different software settings.

As I write this, the iWow 3D has six reviews on Amazon. All give it 5/5. It may be that I’m just a tone deaf dipshit, but I don’t think so. If those users compare the output by just toggling the iWow on and off via the hardware button, they will absolutely be impressed. The problem is that the resulting sound when the iWow is turned off is NOTHING like the sound you get through the headphone jack. A little more testing might change their mind. As always, your mileage may vary. If you have experience with the iWow (positive or negative), please feel free to post.


I’m Radium-Active

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This won’t be terribly long. In previous posts, we’ve looked at Radio Gaga and Snowtape. Both are good apps for listening to online music, as well as to capture songs for your iTunes library.

Radium came to my attention when it was part of the MacBasket Mini-Bundle. I decided to try it out because there are some stations that I couldn’t seem to access with Radio Gaga or Snowtape. Specifically, I was looking for Windsor/Detroit’s 89X. I wasn’t able to get it with the previous programs but Radium brought it to me in all its glory.

If you’re looking for a program chock full of functionality, this isn’t the one for you. It plays Internet radio. Period. But, hey, I like that. My array of hard drives suggests that I don’t need to keep building my iTunes library. I had been listening to several web-based radio stations but was frustrated that most seem to use Flash to stream the programs and my experience with Flash has been less than optimal. Radium appealed to me because it allowed me to continue listening in a way that seems much more OS X friendly. Radium has not caused any system instability that I’ve come to expect while listening to Flash players.

When launched, Radium installs itself in the menu bar. There is no app clogging up your dock. You select radio stations from the menu bar and access preferences from there. wpid-voila_capture338-2010-12-8-17-372.jpg

Once launched, you’re ready to find a station. There are many stations included. You can also drag stations from iTunes or use URLs to link to the station. In the case of 89X, I couldn’t make that work. I tried to do a search but got impatient after a minute or two. I sent an e-mail to their support address and got a response within the hour. It seems I just hadn’t waited long enough. So, if you’re looking for a complaint, this is the only one: their search mechanism is a bit slow. After they suggested I do the search again, I tried to be more patient. Within 4-5 minutes, I had my station. TIP: If you want to save that station you found via search, just click the little heart to the left and it’s saved.

If you want to add a station via the URL, you get this window:

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My results have been hit or miss with this option. I appreciate that it’s there and when it works, it’s great. My recommendation is that you first try the search option and be prepared to wait a few minutes. You can also request stations through support. Given how responsive they have been to me, that is a good option.

An unexpected bonus with Radium is that, like Snowtape, it can stream to Airport Express devices.

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If you’re looking for it, Radium also provides an equalizer with 23 different settings. You can also create custom settings and save them.

As a quick glimpse, here are the preference options:

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And…drum roll… If you have a subscription service, Radium may also be able to access that service:
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The subscription that is missing from the screenshot is DI.fm + SKY.fm.

In a very, very unscientific comparison, I used the Activity Monitor to have a look system load generated by Radium, Radio Gaga, and Snowtape. I ran each program for an hour or two, checking the CPU load every 10-15 minutes. The results surprised me; I didn’t expect Snowtape to be the biggest hog:

Program CPU Load
Radium 1.1 – 2.2 %
Snowtape (not recording) 3.5 – 5.0 %
Snowtape (recording) 8.0 – 10.0 %
Radio Gaga (not recording) 1.5 – 2.5 %
Radio Gaga (recording) 3.5 – 4.5 %

 

Overall, the sound quality is good. The impact on system resources seems quite low. If you’re looking for a way to access your subscription service, or just a resource friendly way to listen to Internet radio, Radium is an excellent alternative.

You can find Radium here:

http://www.macbasket.com/ (good until 9Dec2010)
http://www.macbundlebox.com/ (good until 22Dec2010)
http://www.catpigstudios.com/ (hopefully for years…)


Snowtape Rocks Version 2

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Vemedio has recently released a new version of Snowtape, taking it to version 2.0. This is a significant upgrade and, in my opinion, pushes Snowtape further ahead of Radio Gaga. In my original look at the two apps, I gave Snowtape the edge but it wasn’t a huge edge. By adding functionality that was in Radio Gaga and extending it, Snowtape now sits alone for me.

Contrary to the announcement e-mail, I found that the upgrade costs USD $16.50 (a mere 0.50 difference, but…). The installation was quick and did not destroy the previous version. So, what have they added?

  • Support for editing in whatever format you choose to record (no reencoding). The editor has been seriously enhanced to make it more full featured.
  • Scheduled recordings
  • Multiple recording streams
  • Last.fm support, including scrobbling
  • Smart channel lists and playlists
  • Streaming to Airport Express and Apple TV

Interface

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The interface has been cleaned up a little. I like that the details window along the right now shows the options available if the stations has multiple streams. It’s a bit cleaner and easy to quickly choose your preferred format/bit rate.

Setup

Preferences have changed quite a bit, to accommodate the new functionality.

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The recording preferences are greatly enhanced. The three new filters are just what I had been hoping for. The ability to filter commercials, partial recordings, and dupes?? I am totally in!

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Here you can select your preferred streaming format now, as well as putting a limit on your simultaneous recordings, if you would like.

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And if you’re a Last.fm fan, they’ve got you covered. It enables scrobbling and also provides access to a Snowtape scrobbler’s group.

Scheduling

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A new feature for Snowtape, is the ability to schedule recordings. Pick a station and then select the menu option “New Recording Schedule from Selection.” You can select a specific date, Everyday, or Weekdays. Set a time and a duration. You can do this for as many stations as you wish and they will record simultaneously in the background, bandwidth permitting.

Lists

Snowtape now supports Channels and Playlists. Each supports standard (manual) and Smart versions. Of course, the manual versions mean that you will create the list and then drag contents to it. The smart channel will find stations based on filter criteria.

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The first selection criterion allows you to decide whether the other criteria are an ALL or ANY filter. The next options allow you to select based on:

  • Name
  • Genre
  • Best Bitrate
  • Country
  • Language

Depending on the option, you’ll have different comparison operators from which to choose. In the case of bitrate, you have several hardcoded comparisons.

  • 32
  • 64
  • 96
  • 128
  • 160
  • 256

The Smart Playlist is similar. Playlists operate on songs that have been recorded and are currently in your Snowtape database.

This gives you a flavor of the enhancements made to Snowtape. I like the new functionality. The app seems a bit faster, the interface is better, and the new stuff brings much of what you can get in Radio Gaga. The one thing that Radio Gaga provides that I haven’t found in Snowtape 2 is the ability to filter recordings (meaning, the ability to record only certain songs or artists). This is nice functionality but it’s a bit like hunting for a needle in a haystack; my results have been less than spectacular…

I haven’t looked at the “professional editing” now provided in Snowtape because I haven’t had a need for it. Please feel free to post your opinion for others!

If you’re in the market to enhance your music library, it’s my opinion that Snowtape 2 is an excellent tool.


Snag-bagging Songs on the Sly

Having a large music selection is a great thing. If you’re looking to evoke a certain mood, nothing works as well as music. With apps like iTunes, that allow you to generate Smart Playlists, you have a very flexible means for matching almost any mood…assuming you have the collection to back it up. You can build up your collection with the iTunes store or Amazon, but even at $1/song or $5/album, the costs build up quickly. This brings us to two programs that seek to help you build your music collection using Internet radio.

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Radio Gaga and Snowtape are two apps that help you build your music library from a wide variety of internet based radio stations. Each has its strengths and each would serve the purpose for a different group of people.

Interface

When it comes to the interface, neither program screams sexy but both are clean and relatively intuitive.

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Radio Gaga has an interface that is a little more attractive. By using buttons or frames, you get a graphic representation of the genres available. Double click on a genre frame to see a listing of the stations. The lower left corner has a controller and there is also a mini-controller available.

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Snowtape is a bit more utilitarian. It also allows you to select based on genre, but without the pretty icons. It provides an additional link that allows you to buy a song that you are listening to in iTunes. This can be handy if you’re trying to support a specific artist or you have found a song that you want to get in pristine condition.

Radio Stations

Both apps provide a large collection of stations. They both will allow you to add stations via a URL or by dragging it from iTunes. Snowtape can go a bit further and can also load based on a playlist. Below is a listing of the genres available, as well as the number of stations/genre at the time that I was gathering the data.

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In terms of station volume, Radio Gaga is the clear winner. However, bear in mind that many of the Radio Gaga stations that make up this huge selection are operating below 128 kbp. Those stations are great if you’re running with limited bandwidth. If you have a high-speed connection, the stations below 128 kbp sound like crap. If you’re using the app as a radio, it might be ok. If you’re trying to capture songs, forget it. The recordings will sound like an AM radio playing in a big metal cabinet.

As internet radios, the apps are pretty evenly matched to me. You may find a genre more readily in one app over the other (if you want Metal or Disco, you’ll have an easier time with Radio Gaga) but the both allow you to play and add stations.

It’s at this point, though, that the apps head down different evolutionary paths, which we’ll get to soon.

Setup

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Here you can see the setup options for Radio Gaga. Pretty straighforward stuff. It does let you limit recording based on available hard drive space, which makes a lot of sense for Radio Gaga, as we’ll see.

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Snowtape is more integrated with iTunes (allowing recommendations), has hot keys, permits you to set the format for recordings (AAC or MP3–various quality levels), limit bandwidth, and will let you use your Touch or iPhone as a remote (another point we’ll get to soon).

Recording

Both apps will let you record to your heart’s content and both will export the songs to iTunes with whatever tagging info is provided by the station. Radio Gaga does not provide the option to set the format (it saves to MP3) while Snowtape allows you to choose from four levels of AAC or three levels of MP3.

Radio Gaga

Radio Gaga provides more flexibility in recording. It allows you to set a schedule for recording (as long as the app is running). It allows you to filter for specific words in an artist name or song title. It also allows you to record multiple streams at once.
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This screen shows that Radio Gaga organizes recordings by day. You can play the songs from here and you can export to iTunes from here. As mentioned, it only exports MP3 to iTunes.

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Here you can see how the scheduling works. You select one or more stations and then pick a menu option to “Record On Schedule.” You control the date, the length of time for recording, and on which days it repeats. This can be very handy if you have a particular radio show you want to catch.

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The limitation here is to an artist name or song name. As a test, I selected several rock stations and filtered on the band “The Kinks.” I selected several comedy stations and filtered on “Hedberg” to see if I could get Mitch Hedberg recordings. In fourteen hours of recording, I got one Kinks song and no Mitch Hedberg. Your mileage may vary. To be honest, I’m ambivalent about this capability. If I had a song that I desperately wanted, and I felt like having the app running all the time, I might use this functionality. I’m typically not that patient and I’ll have to think about any songs I might want that could be hard to find. Since I don’t know of any compelling Internet radio shows, the scheduling doesn’t do much for me either. For the right person, this seems like an excellent set of options that Snowtape does not provide.

Snowtape

Snowtape provides no scheduling or filtering capabilities. It cannot record multiple streams. What it does differently is: it finds artwork for the song and it allows “overlap recording.” Why is this important? Both programs do a decent job of getting the songs. The problem is that they key off the tagging information provided by the station. If there is a lag between the beginning/end of the music and the sending of the tag info, you may lose part of a song or may get extra. With the overlap feature, Snowtape will add 5 seconds to the beginning and end of recordings. You should be less likely to lose part of a song if you enable this option.

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This screen shows a selection of songs that have been recorded, along with the artwork that was captured. Don’t like the artwork? Pick a song, then hit the “Change Album Artwork” button. You’ll get this window:

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From here, you can select something else that suits your fancy. Of course, if you’ve picked up Pollux or TuneUp (Song Scrubber Showdown, Song Scrubber Showdown Updated, Genre Tagging — Pollux vs. TuneUp, Pollux vs. TuneUp Update), this isn’t terribly useful or relevant.

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In recognition of the fact that this recording ability is not perfect, Snowtape provides an editor. When used in conjunction with the overlap function mentioned above, this provides your best bet of getting a full song by letting you record the extra and then delete if before exporting to iTunes.

Final Thoughts

I can’t really pick a winner on this one. Both apps provide an excellent means of beefing up your song library. Snowtape gets you the artwork and gives you a better shot of getting the whole song. Radio Gaga provides much better tools if you have radio shows you want to grab or if you want to go on hunting trips for specific artists or songs. Which product you choose will depend on your needs. Both will meet your needs but in different ways. If you want to stream to an Airport Express, Snowtape is your choice. And, if you do so, it will allow you to use your iPhone or Touch as the control, much like iTunes does. Here is a final matrix for your consideration.

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In researching this, I saw that Snowtape is on sale “this week” for 50% off. Since it says “this week” and doesn’t actually set an end date, I don’t know how long the offer will last. To me, Snowtape has a slight edge in this contest. At $14.95, it looks even more attractive.


Etymotic Research hf5 vs. Ultimate Ears SuperFi 5vi

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When it comes to earphones/headphones, my preference has been to opt for earphones. No power is required. They are much more convenient to drag onto a plane. If properly inserted, they provide excellent noise reduction and good, clean sound. And, they don’t mess up your hair if you’re flying to a meeting.

The standard Apple earphones are worthless in this regard. They aren’t comfortable and there is no noise reduction. My first pair of add-on earphones were the Shure E2c’s. I loved them and they served faithfully for two years. A year into using them, a piece of plastic broke off where the bud meets the cord. I contacted Shure and they promptly sent me a brand new replacement set. Fantastic service and fantastic ear buds.

When the Shures hit the end of their life, I probably should have just replaced them with another set of Shure. I have no complaints about the buds or the company. But, I was curious about the other options and would wait for a set to go on sale for a good price. That’s how I wound up with the ER and UE buds. I’ve had the hf5 for a little over a year and the 5vi for several months.

Accessories

Case

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The hf5 case is larger and can hold everything that ships with the set. It’s also a soft case. The 5vi case is hard but won’t carry much more than the cleaning tool and the earphones themselves. If you have settled on your desired tips, this shouldn’t be an issue. Winner: 5vi.

Cleaning Tools

I’m not an expert on cleaning tools (a photo of my desk would prove this), so I’d call this one a draw. However, the hf5 comes with filters that are meant to protect the earphones from wax and also to smooth out the frequencies a bit. If you buy into the need for the filter, the hf5 wins. The difference has not been obvious for me and I try to keep the filters clean on the hf5’s. Winner: draw.

Tips

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Both sets come with silicone tips and foam tips. Although the foam tips provide a better seal, I don’t use them. Two reasons: they’re not as easy to work with and they require replacement more often than I care to pay for. They are also much easier to damage if you’re traveling with them. Comparing the foam tips, the 5vi wins. The Comply foam tips are nicer. They seem like they would last longer, they seal better, and they are more comfortable. Here’s the rub for me: the standard Comply tips are $14.95 for 3 sets. Want to go with integrated wax protection? If so, you’ll shell out $19.95 for 3 sets. Damn…Winner: 5vi

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The 5vi comes with 4 sets of silicone tips. The hf5 comes with 2 sets. The triple flanged tips that come with the hf5 are softer, seal better, and are much more comfortable. I really don’t like the silicone tips for the 5vi AT ALL. Winner: hf5

Build

Both sets are well built. The hf5 have an aluminum housing, which feels more rugged than the plastic of the 5vi. The 5vi has a thicker, tangle free cord. There are two potential issues with the thicker cord. First, the thicker, stiffer cord transmits more noise to the ear phones if you tap them or they bounce together. Second, the 5vi works best when you wear the cord over the ear. This is a little more difficult with the stiffer cord. The hf5 has a thicker housing around the plug, which makes it a little tougher to disconnect the dock connect cord. It also has a clip if you’d care to anchor the cord to your shirt. Winner: hf5

Sound

The most noticeable difference between the hf5 and the 5vi is that the 5vi is considerably louder at any volume level. You have to increase the volume when using the hf5 by 80-90% to get the equivalent level of sound. Overall, the sound of the 5vi is more full. Both sets provide clean definition but the hf5 seem just a little bit muddier than the 5vi. The hf5 seems to be a little better at rendering higher pitched sounds like the crash of a cymbal. Below is a summary and a list of different pieces of music and an indicator of on which set I felt they sounded better.

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Specs

Here are the specs from the maker websites.

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Truthfully, they are both very nice sounding earphones. All things being equal, I would choose the 5vi. The more efficient output and the fuller sound are quite appealing and the case is great for travel. But…I truly dislike their silicone tips and can’t see myself shelling out cash for the Comply tips regularly. I’ll take them on my next trip and will see how well they wear. This will determine which set becomes the go-to set.

If comfort is an issue or you plan to exercise with them, the hf5 is probably the better choice. You should get less cord noise and the flanged tips are much more comfortable than the bulbous 5vi tips. As a comparison, Amazon is currently offering the hf5 for $123-$137 (depending on color) and the 5vi for $76.


Song Scrubber Showdown

Being a big fan of music of all types, my iTunes library hovers just under 8,000 songs. It’s mixed bag of stuff from college, copies from casettes, iTunes/Amazon purchases, and rips of my cd collection. To be honest, the whole concept of “cleaning up” iTunes songs seemed totally irrelevant to me. There was no question that my library had its share of hosed up tags and more than its share of missing cover art but my original iPod couldn’t display the cover art and I had figured out how to deal with the ones that were mis-tagged.

Then, MacHeist offered their nanobundle that included CoverScout. With a house full of iPod Touches and an Airport Express streaming to the stereo, cover art had begun to creep up the ladder of importance a bit. I had once spent a day working Amazon to clean up my cover art only to have an ill-timed HD meltdown trash all my work. This would not happen to me again! Originally, CoverScout was my primary reason for seriously considering the MacHeist bundle; I wanted all that pretty artwork. As I began to monitor the forum, the complaints about installing it and the phone home features almost turned me away. Then, I decided I could use MacJournal and opted to buy the bundle anyway. While monitoring the Macheist forums, two other products were mentioned: Pollux and TuneUp. What follows is my experience while trying to compare the three…

After some thought, I spent the $10 for 365 days of Pollux. Because TuneUp has a generous trial (100 song clean-ups and 50 cover arts), I opted to test with the trial.

Interface

CoverScout

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Without question, CoverScout has the most attractive interface. It is a stand-alone application (relying on your iTunes library) and it has all the look and feel of a Mac product. It provides a cover flow pane to show the albums in your collection, as well as a side panel that shows which albums have cover art and which do not. It provides an easily viewable collection of retrieved art work and lets you select the one that is applied to the desired album. Particularly nice is the fact that it lets you filter for: All albums, albums with no cover, albums with incomplete covers (not sure what that means), and albums with covers. As far as I can tell, it is the only app that gives you this very useful way of filtering your content. The pane on the right, which shows the albums meeting your criteria, also shows a micro copy of the cover art if it exists. You can quickly see which albums are missing cover art.

Pollux

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Interface??? What interface??? Pollux installs as a Menu Bar option. See the little dark circle with the musical note? That’s it. Pollux integrates with iTunes. You select a song or collection of songs in iTunes and then activate the Pollux menu from the Menu Bar.

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Here are your choices. The obvious choice is “Tag Selected iTunes Tracks” but I can tell you that the Undo also comes in handy. The nice thing about Pollux is that the “Preferences” option allows you to turn functionality on and off. As we’ll see later, this is very useful.

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As you ask Pollux to do things, it will display a Growl window that shows its progress:

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It shows how many songs have been examined, as well as how many have been tagged. Don’t like the tagging? Select the undo…

TuneUp

TuneUp displays as a sidebar to iTunes.

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The main settings are reached by right-clicking on the screen and selecting Preferences. Your options for control are shown below:

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To activate TuneUp, you select the song(s) that you want to clean or locate cover art for and drag them to the sidebar from iTunes. This initiates the search. The results are then displayed in the sidebar and you are given the option to SAVE the results to iTunes, by album. If there are multiple cover art options, a small downward pointing triangle will appear over the sample that is displayed. Here you can see results with the album cover expanded and the tracks expanded. Cover art that is selected will be the one that is updated in iTunes. If you hover your cursor over the album covers, you will get the resolution. Click on a cover to see it in the right pane and to select it for updating. Uncheck a song to prevent updating.

In my experience, TuneUp provides three results. If it lists it as a “Match,” it is fully confident in the results. You can select one album at a time to update by hitting the little disk icon in the bar with the band name. Hitting “Save All” will save all the results listed under Matches.

There is another category for when it is less confident. It will recommend that you look through the results before updating. Same update options are available.

Finally, if it doesn’t find anything, it provides a list of those songs it couldn’t find.

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If you activate the “Cover Art” tab, rather than using the “Clean” tab, TuneUp will start checking your library for songs that are missing cover art. If it finds any, it will go in search for the missing ones.

Performance

This one is a bit of a quandary. Each product brings its own slant on things and one of the products had a demo so hamstrung that it was impossible to carry out the test. For testing, I selected two albums: one which was “easy” and one which was problematic. I tried a number of different options. Since I’m old as Moses, I tried music from the 80’s. I also tried some songs from my oldest son (Hasten the Day, Chiodos). However, I did not time or record the results from his music. Suffice to say that his music proved to separate the men from the boys… Here are the results for the old-timers: (for Jesus & Mary Chain, a 12 song “album” was selected, for Joy Division, a 9 song album was selected).

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He had an album that was tagged as “Haste the Day,” which, as far as I could tell, is a christian metal band. Pollux found nothing. TuneUp quickly informed me that the collection was actually an assortment of non-christian metal bands, including GWAR. Upon listening to the Haste the Day song that TuneUp decided was GWAR, it was immediately clear that TuneUp had nailed it.

As a further test, I took 25 songs that were labeled “Track ##.” Of those, TuneUp identified 23 songs. Pollux identified 20. The interesting thing is that there were two songs that messed with TuneUp: TuneUp seemed to think they both came from Buckcherry’s album “15.” Pollux correctly identified the songs as belonging to “Stadium Arcadium” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The songs that Pollux could not identify were either christian bands or metal bands.

Pollux

In each case, Pollux comes up the slowest. However, as compared to CoverScout, it seems to be doing its due diligence. In the case of Joy Division, it returned the correct results. In the case of Jesus & Mary Chain, it produced no results and the extreme time seemed to be based on track six of the twelve tracks selected. Pollux had no issue with Joy Division but definitely had an issue with J&MC. To be fair, an internet search made me wonder where this “album” came from. I can only assume it came from one of my cassettes but I don’t know what it was. My biggest issue with Pollux comes up here…in terms of tagging a genre to a song, Pollux is very quick to label everything as “Rock.” This macro view really pisses me off, so I finally began turning off the option to provide the genre (as can be seen in the screenshot above).

TuneUp

TuneUp was quite fast and returned what seemed to be legitimate results… In the case of J&MC, I’m not sure what to make of the results. TuneUp was the only app to return the songs AND the cover art. However, the cover art was for an album that I cannot find. Perhaps it’s a bootleg. But hey, I got the correct songs and some cover art, so what the hell?After several batches of 500 or so songs, I have had TuneUp lock up on me. I don’t know if this is a memory leak or if it loses touch with their server but it will sit on a song, looking like it is updating, and never return.

CoverScout

This is where CoverScout begins to hit the crapper. As a stand-alone application, it relies on the tagging that already exists on the song. If the album title is missing, it will suggest that you have SongGenie fix the song(s).

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Here is where my rant begins. CoverScout costs $39.95. It finds cover art and lets you print/edit the cover art. It relies on the existing tagging to do its work. If your tagging is bad or missing, you need SongGenie. Guess what??? SongGenie is another $29.95. We’re now at $69.95 but buy them together and you can save $5! A quick download of the demo and not so quick install later, I go back to CoverScout and hit “Identify with SongGenie.” SongGenie is launched and it begins to go through all the songs in my iTunes library. 25 minutes later, the album I was looking to identify finally shows up in the SongGenie window so I can ask it to do a search. As with CoverScout, the interface is very nice. It is clean and well layed out. I select the 12 J&MC songs and ask it to find them. A message informs me that with the demo, I can only search one song at a time. Annoyed, I push onward and begin to search for each of the songs individually. Four minutes later, I’ve hit my 10th song with no results yet. When I hit the 11th song, I get this lovely window:

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Seriously? I can try 10 songs and only one at a time? I didn’t get results for ANY of them. With TuneUp, you only reduce your permitted sample size when you SAVE the results. When you get some BENEFIT from the software!. Not with these fellas. You get 10 lame attempts and then you better whip out the credit card.

Out of curiosity, I decided to check the library for each program and discovered this:

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So, in terms of byte consumption, CoverScout is the hands down winner; but that’s a dubious honor at best. Hope you didn’t spend all your cash on CoverScout and SongGenie because you’ll want to throw on a spare hard drive onto your system. I understand that they are probably cacheing images to save time later but 514MB is a lot of space. This graph looks almost like a male enhancement ad. OK, maybe this isn’t totally fair but all apps were run for a similar period of time and if your hard drive space is running at a premium, this should also be a consideration.

Extras

This is where you see the biggest divergence amongst the apps. This is a good thing because all seem to address a separate segment of the market, assuming that those markets actually exist. First, we’ll look at the tagging:

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SongGenie provides the most tagging but the additional fields don’t mean that much to me. Perhaps they do to you.

Pollux

Pollux is the most barebones of the three apps. It allows you to tag songs as they are added to iTunes. It lets you select which fields are updated and which ones are not. A new feature, added while I was putting this together, allows you to update only blank fields. This is a handy feature. Since I really couldn’t stand the genre tagging generated by Pollux, the ability to turn the genre field off was great. Pollux also finds lyrics for your music, which is one of the reasons I decided to pay for it. The Growl notification shows the cover art it has found, the fields it is updating, and you can also have it show the lyrics. It will also find artist art if the particular cover art cannot be found. If you don’t want to pay to get lyrics, you can also try GimmeSomeTune. I found it a bit buggy but it is getting rewritten.

TuneUp

TuneUp aims to be a more complete music solution by providing social networking links, band information and videos, concert information, and links to buy concert tickets. Some of this functionality is provided by the free iConcertCal plug-in for iTunes but TuneUp blends it in nicely with its other features. Here are the extra panels provided:

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CoverScout/SongGenie

CoverScout has a nice interface and it provides 5-6 options for your cover art. It rates the images based on their size and resolution. The additional features that allow you to edit the cover art or to print out the cover art for your jewel boxes is lost on me; I just can’t see myself using these features. SongGenie also has a great interface. It lets you play songs from within the SongGenie window, and it attempts to evaluate the completeness of your library by rating the songs based on how many of the tags are filled out for a song, whether or not it has cover art, and whether or not it has lyrics. These are nice features. Like Pollux, SongGenie also finds lyrics and attaches them to the song.

Final Thoughts

Finally, here are my closing thoughts on the three apps, presented as a table. For each category, there is a first, second, and third place. Lowest final score is the winner…

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TuneUp is absolutely the fastest and most accurate in my testing. Where Pollux and SongGenie had problems with Jesus & Mary Chain, TuneUp seemed to have none. Also, it had no problem with bands like GWAR and Chiodos, which seemed to trip up Pollux. Unfortunately, the highly restrictive nature of the SongGenie demo really left me little opportunity to see how it fared on some of these other bands. Like CoverScout (and unlike Pollux), TuneUp generally provides multiple options for cover art.

TuneUp suggests you clean up to 500 songs at a time but I did not try this. It never seemed to drag my system down and neither did Pollux. I did try selecting all 7900 songs in my library and then setting Pollux loose. It chugged through 2000 or so before locking up. The lockup was severe and required a reboot. It was impossible to really get a feel for CoverScout/SongGenie but they definitely dragged on the system more and were very slow to process my iTunes library. And the hard drive impact of CoverScout/SongGenie is by far the worst.

If you’re just looking to clean up a large database of old stuff, a one year purchase of Pollux is the way to go. It does a very good job. It may miss a few songs but it will do a very competent job. That is, unless you want more accurate and more granular tagging of the band genre. For a long-term purchase and for someone with eclectic tastes, TuneUp is the best option. It does a stellar job of identifying songs and the genre tagging is much better than Pollux. If you like a pretty app and money is no object, CoverScout/SongGenie is probably worth further investigation. I just can’t tell, based on the small sampling I was able to do.

Note: My demo of TuneUp is currently offering a 20% discount for TuneUp Gold. This takes the price down to USD $23.96. I don’t know if this is inherently part of the demo or it’s a special deal.


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